With the recent rising rates of depression in the US, mental health is being recognized as a crisis in American youth. While mental illness is commonly thought to be associated with girls, statistics tell us that boys are just as vulnerable.
Teen girls attempt suicide more than teen boys do, but boys are more likely to die from their attempts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,537 boys 15-19 years old died because of suicide in 2015, versus 524 girls. Boys are also found to be less likely to seek treatment. According to Dennis Barbour, president of the Partnership for Male Youth, some boys see doing so as a sign of weakness. Even if they don’t see it this way, boys are less likely to be spotted by a physician. Unlike girls, who may regularly see a gynecologist as they grow out of their pediatrician, boys tend to see their doctors less frequently, especially if they don’t see their pediatrician anymore.
Societal pressures also play a significant factor. A national poll in 2018 showed that one-third of boys between the ages of 10-19 years old felt that society expects them to “be a man” and “suck it up” when they feel sad or scared. Another third felt they need to suppress their feelings, and half wanted to know more about having the right to feel the way they feel, despite pressures from society.
Major protective factors against depression and other mental health issues are friendships and relationships with others. 6 in 10 American teens say that most of their daily interactions with friends are online rather than in-person, and their reason for the lack of face-to-face time is having “too many other obligations,” according to the Pew Research Center. Some experts blame this increasing use of social media for the rising rate of depression among teens, which in 2016 increased by 63% from the previous year. Niobe Way, an NYU professor of applied psychology, found that while 85% of teen boys wanted close friendships with other boys, they stop forming these relationships because valuing relationships is to “not be a man.”
Little has been done toward addressing mental health issues in boys and men. The Partnership for Male Youth is working towards educating clinicians, parents, and other educators by creating a toolkit for adolescent and young adult males that informs health providers of their unique needs around mental health. Way has developed “The Listening Project,” a program in New York City that trains seventh-graders to connect with their peers and form relationships.
While these programs are a start, much more needs to be done to remove both the stigma of mental health as something that only affects girls and the concept that “being a man” means not showing emotions or asking for help. Both men and women have the right to express our feelings and reach out for support, and to recognize our need to be real to the core of who we are.
Are you or do you know of a boy struggling with mental health issues? Do you have any thoughts on mental health stigma among boys? Share your thoughts and experiences below!
This SOVA blog post was based off of Julie Compton’s article from NBC News, “Boys need better access to mental health care. Why aren’t they getting it?” To access the original post, check it out here.